Leonard Lake was born in San Fransisco, California in 1945. At an early age, he began taking nude photos of his sisters; this became the start of his obsession with pornography. He also enjoyed killing mice by dissolving them in chemicals. At age 19 he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps and did service in Vietnam during the war. He was hospialized for "exhibiting incipient psychotic reactions" but was returned to duty after a short time. In 1971, he was given medical discharge, having been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. He moved to San Jose, California and attended the San Jose Univesity, but dropped out after only one semester and joined a hippie commune.Lake became obsessed with the idea of a global nuclear war and developed a kind of survivalist paranoia and with it an obsession with guns.
Charles Chi-Tat Ng was born in Hong Kong in 1960. His father, a business executive, was strict and disciplined him through physical abuse. From an early age, he displayed an obsession with martial arts and fire-setting and also a lifelong addiction to stealing. At the age of 15, he was arrested for shoplifting and sent by his father to a private boarding school in England from which he was expelled for stealing. In adulthood, he moved to the United States. In October of 1979, he was arrested in relation to a hit and run accident and forced to pay for damages. In 1980, he lied about his nationality and joined the USMC. He was dishonorably discharged after less than a year for stealing automatic weapons worth $11 000. Though sentenced to 14 years, he escaped and made his way to California, where he met Lake. Though some sources claim that they met when Lake posted an ad in a survivalist magazine, this cannot be confirmed. After meeting Lake, he moved into his ranch. In 1982, they were both arrested by the FBI for firearm violations. Lake made bail and went into hiding. Ng was sentenced to three years, which he served in a prison in Leavenworth, and sought out Lake again after his release. At this time, the pair became serial killers, abducting, torturing and killing women and sometimes entire families. They knew many of their victims one way or another. One of them was Michael Carroll, a drug leader with whom Ng had shared a cell during his stay at Leavenworth. Another was Donald Lake, Lake’s younger brother.
On June 2, 1985, Ng was caught shoplifting in a hardware store in South San Fransisco and fled the scene. Lake, who was with him, was arrested in their car outside the store when a .22 revolver illegally fitted with a suppressor, bullet holes and blood stains were found inside the car. Lake identified himself as “Robin Stapley” (one of his and Ng’s victims) and showed an altered driver’s license which had belonged to the actual Stapley. Because the license listed Stapley’s age as 26 and Lake was clearly older, the authorities became suspicious and arrested him. When handed a glass of water and left alone, he swallowed a cyanide tablet sewn into a secret compartment of his clothing and slipped into a coma. He was put on life support, but died after four days. Prior to killing himself, he wrote a suicide note revealing his and Ng’s real names and confessing to their crimes.
When the ranch was searched by the police, they found 12 corpses buried in shallow graves on the property as well as a bunker, a stash of weapons and a total of 45 pounds of charred bone fragments, leading the investigators to believe that the pair may have killed as many as 25 people. In the master bedroom, there was a four-post bed with loose restraints tied to each post and bloody pieces of women’s lingerie. The searchers also found Lake’s diaries and journals as well as video recordings of him and Ng raping and torturing their victims and of Lake alone talking about holding a woman captive as a sexual slave and servant after the world was destroyed by nuclear war. The bunker had two hidden rooms. The first, the torture chamber, contained various tools and a sign reading “The Miranda”, a reference to the name of Lake’s plan, “Operation Miranda”, a reference to the novel The Collector by John Fowles in which the protagonist abducts a woman named Miranda and holds her captive in his basement. The other room was a small, soundproof cell with a bed, a table and a chemical commode.
In the meantime, Ng fled to Calgary, Alberta, Canada via Chicago and Detroit. He remained a fugitive for a month, but was once again caught shoplifting. He was charged and convicted of shoplifting, felonious assault and possession of a concealed firearm and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. When the American investigators found out about his incarceration, they tried to have him extradited and interviewed him in prison. Ng, who spent his jail time studying American law and sometimes drawing cartoons depicting murders (some of which had been committed at the Wilseyville ranch), admitted to his involvement in his and Lake’s murders, but claimed that his part had been mostly limited to disposing of the corpses. The Canadian authorities refused to extradite him on the grounds that Canada had abolished capital punishment and Ng could be executed if he was returned to the U.S. It took six years of legal proceedings to have him returned to California in 1991, in part because of the testimony of a man who had survived an encounter with Ng, and even then the legal battle wasn’t over. It took another seven years and over $10 million worth of the taxpayers’ money for him to be put on trial for murder in October of 1998. In July the next year, he was found guilty by the jury on almost all counts and sentenced to death. The charges for the murder of Paul Cosner were dropped on the grounds that it couldn’t be proven with absolute certainty that he had died by Ng’s hand. In total, Ng’s legal battle with the state of California cost over $20 million. He is currently on death row in San Quentin.
Lake and Ng targeted women, but were not hesitant to abduct entire families. After killing the men and children to get them out of the way, they would hold the women captive in a custom-built room in a bunker at Lake’s ranch, tie them up and torture and rape them, videotaping each other while doing so. Sometimes they also lured men to the compound with promises of work and robbed them, after which Lake stole their identities. After killing the victims by either strangling or shooting them, they would often bury them in shallow graves on the property, though there is evidence that some were also dismembered and burned and their remains shattered.